A brawler that bobs and weaves
The Forty-Eight is Milwaukee’s latest expression of their trademarked Dark Custom styling and attitude, and with the exception, in our view, of the Cross Bones, it’s the most convincing effort to date. The model was rolled out in January and joined the Nightster and Iron 883 as the XL avatars of that gritty minimalism, and it shares a number of attributes with those models besides its dark complexion, most conspicuously in the hind quarters. There we find the same slammed suspension, chopped fender wrapping 150/80-16 rubber, side-mount license plate, combination turn indicator/brake light and—in the case of the Nightster—the same perforated belt guard.
From there forward the Forty-Eight dials up the gnar factor in a big—and small—way. An entirely new, slammed and beefy front end rolling a fat MT90 skin borrowed from the Cross Bones is juxtaposed with a miniscule 2.1-gallon peanut tank to create a compact brute of a bike visually. It’s a brute with a slammed profile, too, owing to mirrors installed on the underside of the grips, a lay-down speedo bracket, turn indicators stuck directly to the triple tree and a relatively flat handlebar. A stubby front fender mounts to a beautifully executed combination fork brace/fender bracket.
Operationally, the element that most distinguishes the Forty-Eight from its Dark XL siblings in the fitment of forward foot controls instead of the mid-mount affairs on those machines. For taller riders (and by “taller” I mean anyone over about 5′ 6″) that feature alone is sufficient to commend the model as measurably superior to the Nightster and Iron 883—at least from an ergonomic standpoint.
Functionally speaking, that minimal fuel supply knocks off some of the model’s luster in real-world riding scenarios, obviously. (Realistically, we’re talking about a 75-mile range to reserve and maybe 110 to bone dry if you nurse it.) And while there’s no practical justification for such a stingy tank, there’s no debating the visual impact. The peanut tank is not only evocative of the original such units (tracing its roots back to Harley’s DKW-derived 125S in 1948; get it?) and right in step with current custom bobber fashion, it serves also to emphasize the physical mass of the 1200cc motor and the general stockiness of the model’s styling.
Teaming up with the forward controls to make the Forty-Eight an ergonomic pleasure—even for my 6′ 4″ frame—are the flat handlebar which provides a good comfortable reach and posture against the wind, and the placement of the solo saddle, which parks the nates back over the rear shock mounts. The result is the sensation of riding a much bigger mount while enjoying the quick reflexes, quick performance, and 50+ mpg fuel consumption economy of an XL1200.
The Forty-Eight’s ride quality is dictated largely by the slammed rear suspension and muscular short-travel front forks. As such, it’s a taut, solid, and occasionally jarring ride over the notoriously chunky, patched and downright evil pavement of Daytona Beach’s crumbling city street infrastructure. On decent pavement it delivers decent bounce, and overall it sure beats the hardtail chassis that are so prevalent among the custom production bobbers on the market—though, at times, not by much.
The trade-off for that stiffness is the laudable agility of the Forty-Eight in twisty conditions and when knifing through the urban traffic snarls. Despite appearances, the fat-tire front end is downright nimble and confidence-inspiring. There’s not a smidgen of flex in the front forks; any steering input is met with an instantaneous and predictable response, and the overall feel of the handling is a lot like Harley’s hard-charging Dyna Fat Bob.
Belied by the Forty-Eight’s raw, rude and rowdy exterior is its downright civilized powertrain performance. Vibration is utterly isolated by the motor’s rubber mounting at virtually every operating speed, and the fuel-injected 74-incher rolls on the power seamlessly from an idle. Start up is effortless, acceleration hiccup-free, and quick twists of the throttle exhilarating.
Two idiosyncrasies of the Forty-Eight take some getting used to, the first being those underslung mirrors. Anyone conditioned to taking a quick glance above their gloves for a look behind (i.e., everyone) will have a disconcerting moment or two when that habit finds nothing there but air. (Oh, right. The mirror’s down there.) Once accustomed to looking down instead of eye-level, you discover that, surprisingly, you’re not looking at reflections of your knees. The field of reflection provided is pretty much unobstructed, though you may have to move your thumbs to see the whole picture.
The other unfamiliar feature of the bike is the jiffy stand. It’s a springy affair that snaps back sharply unless fully deployed, and once fully deployed and bearing weight, it sets into a sort of lock position that prevents it from snapping back and collapsing if the bike is inadvertently—or intentionally—bumped while parked. It’s a worthwhile concept except that once in a while the stand doesn’t dislodge from its lock position when the bike is righted and a quick kick to retract it is met with an immovable object and an awkward moment. Weird. We dubbed the device the “hinky stand.”
With a base price of $10,499, the Forty Eight is an attractive package of performance and looks, but in truth that sum is only the down payment on what you’ll be tempted to do to this model. An example of how far you might take it was displayed prominently out front of Harley’s Beach Street pavilion during Bike Week, and it’s pictured here. Of the many tweaks and flourishes found on the bike, the most immediately appealing is the gorgeous Brown Leather Solo Sprung Saddle. It runs about $300 from Harley-Davidson P&A.